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Valley learned lesson from '97

Flood-prevention projects completed since that storm paid off this time

Good news: The worst of the New Year's flooding of 2005-'06 is mostly over. More good news: The New Year's Flood of 1997 prompted major projects that made this season's high water much less damaging than it might have been otherwise.

There was bad news along with the good, of course. Residents in some areas saw floodwaters invade their homes, and traffic was disrupted by mud slides and high water.

Granted, this year's flooding was less severe to start with. The rain that drenched the region in the final days of 1996 was warmer and fell on a larger snowpack, sending far more water down creeks and rivers.

But the 1997 devastation triggered massive efforts to prevent future disasters. New channels and flood walls were constructed through downtown Ashland. Stream banks along Bear Creek were rebuilt higher than they had been before the floods. And emergency agencies responded quickly, evacuating neighborhoods well in advance of the rising water.

Consider:

The city of Ashland spent &

36;2 million rechanneling Ashland Creek with reinforced concrete and replacing the Winburn Way bridge after the '97 flood. This year's water sped through with room to spare, without a repeat of the flooding in the Plaza the last time.

The Nauvoo Park Estates mobile home park flooded again, but not as badly as in 1997.

In Bear Lake Mobile Estates near Phoenix, residents were evacuated Friday, but returned the next day to dry dwellings. A seven-foot berm built after the '97 flood had prevented Bear Creek from invading the park.

Some of the most dramatic damage this time came on the Siskiyou Summit, where mud slides forced transportation officials to close Interstate 5 while the slides were cleared.

Perhaps the best news of all was that, as the waters began to recede, snow levels dropped, bringing heavy snowfall to the higher elevations.

That means a healthy snowpack heading into the rest of the winter, delighting skiers and irrigators alike.

Now, if we can just get some sunny winter days to replace the soggy gloom ...